Category Archives: Catechesis

Talk: “The Catholic Thing” @ the Australian Catholic Youth Festival

PrintHi everyone, it’s nearly two weeks since the inaugural Australian Catholic Youth Festival.  It was a great success!  Xt3 recorded workshop talks and here’s the link to one of my talks.  It’s called the Catholic Thing… but the byline is a little misleading.  The talk is really about belonging, vulnerability, shame, courage and other universal experiences, and how the Catholic “thing” speaks to those experiences.

You can check out other great talks from the festival here.

Hope you enjoy it.

The Legacy of Benedict XVI

pbxviThere’s been all sorts of comments about Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy in the media and the social networks since he announced his decision to resign from the papacy.  Unsurprisingly, the secular media has focused upon the events that have grabbed global attention like the clerical abuse scandal, Vatileaks and the Regensburg address.  And equally unsurprisingly, the assessments of how well Benedict XVI dealt with these and similar issues have varied greatly.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to weigh Benedict’s handling of  these and other difficult matters that arose on his watch, but I also think that it is very easy to transpose a political view of leadership onto the papacy, and thus obscure the true nature of Benedict’s legacy.  For while we need the pope to be an effective leader of the global institution that is the Church, the pope’s primary role is to be a spiritual leader.  The pope is supposed to lead us  to God.

The origins of this mission lie in the very words of Jesus himself, who tells Peter that when he has turned (literally ‘converted’) he is to strengthen his fellow disciples (Luke 22:32).  This means that to understand Benedict’s legacy we need to look as much to his encyclicals and letters, to his homilies and weekly addresses, and to his apostolic visits to different countries as to his organizational management of the Church. And by that measure, BXVI seriously stacks up.

Again and again and again Benedict simply and eloquently pointed us to the heart of the Christian faith: to the encounter with Jesus Christ.  From his first encyclical:

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.  (Deus Caritas Est #1)

And this encounter with Christ is at the one and the same time an encounter with the God who is love.  From one of Benedict’s Q and A sessions with  a group of priests:

 Christianity is not a highly complicated collection of so many dogmas that it is impossible for anyone to know them all; it is not something exclusively for academicians who can study these things, but it is something simple: God exists and God is close in Jesus Christ.

And again,

Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ… Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians… Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.

And finally,

Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional — rather than as an encounter with Christ — which explains why they don’t see it as a source of joy.

Benedict XVI is one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, a truly great intellect capable of critically engaging with both sacred and secular currents of thought.  Without denying or dismissing his theological contribution for a moment, I think that Benedict XVI’s greatest legacy is that he has been a pastor and a missionary, a spiritual father.  And there is something about the simplicity with which this formidable theologian went about this that reminded us again and again that Christianity is Christ: that everything else that makes up the Catholic faith flows from our encounter with the Risen Lord.  And Benedict did not simply speak about these things, but truly embodied them. He was and is a wonderful witness to the joy that this encounter with Christ brings.

Thank  you Holy Father.

Pub Talk: “When Beauty Hides no Longer: Exploring Grace, the Cross and the Glory of it all”

This is the podcast of a pub  talk I gave at “Truth on Tap”, in the Broken Bay Diocese earlier in the year.  You can listen to it at the XT3 website here:   You can also download the podcast from the XT3 site.

The basic thrust of the talk is this: that faith is the result of an encounter with Christ the Beautiful One. Christians are fundamentally lovers of Beauty. It examines the difference between a theoretical or purely conceptual encounter with Christ, and the actual encounter with Christ. Christ is beautiful, even and especially as the Crucified. These topics are explored through the story of one young man’s encounter with Christ.

The talk draws upon the theological project of  Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Speaking in Tongues: as Silly as it Sounds?

I recently had a conversation with one of the philosophy lecturers at the College where the Missionaries of God’s Love seminarians study.  It was just the two of us in the senior common room, and so he seized the moment to ask me if a strange and worrying rumour he had heard about the MGLs was actually true.  “Do the MGLs really speak in tongues?” he asked.  What a relief!  I had thought he was going to ask something really difficult.  “Sure”, I replied, and that began an involved discussion where he peppered me with questions about praying in tongues.  Like many people I suspect the philosophy lecturer had some preconceived ideas about it.  So here are some (not so) random thoughts about speaking in tongues.

Firstly, it can be helpful to spell out what tongues isn’t.  When someone speaks in tongues they haven’t gone into an ecstatic trance or an altered state of consciousness.  They are in full control and so can stop and start praying in tongues whenever they want to.

I don’t believe that tongues is the infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.  Some tongues-speakers believe this, but I don’t see how that can be so.  The infallible sign of  the Holy Spirit in someone’s life is whether they are growing in virtue: whether they are becoming more loving, just and compassionate people.

Nor is praying in tongues usually to do with speaking an unkown foreign language.  The technical term for this is xenoglossia, and while I don’t think it would be impossible for the Lord to perform such a miracle, it isn’t what is normally happening when someone is praying in tongues.

The technical term for praying in tongues is glossolalia, and while it is not an actual language in that the discrete sounds someone is making are not actually words, tongues is like a language in that it is expressive of emotions and desires.  So while it is wordless, the gift of tongues does actually involve communication.  In this way, tongues is not actually so different from many other ways in which human beings communicate without using words.  When you shrug, smile, cry or hug someone you are communicating without using words.  Such actions are often called body language because you are using your body to ‘speak’, to express how you feel.  And as a shrug uses your shoulders, a smile your mouth, and a hug your body, praying in tongues uses your vocal chords.

If tongues is a form of body language then it stands to reason that glossolalia is a latent capacity that everyone possesses.  This is corroborated by the fact that glossolalia is found in the religious practice of non-Christians (including African tribal religions as well as the Muslim Sufi tradition).  In fact, I think that the jazz practice of ‘scatting’ and yodeling are pretty close cousins to tongues as well.  They are all wordless songs or sounds that express the emotions or desires of the one making the noise.  What distinguishes these practices is the recipient of the communication: with ‘scat’ the recipients are an audience, with yodeling it may be oneself, and when you pray in tongues you are expressing your feelings to God.

So anyone in principle can pray in tongues.  But why would someone want to talk to God in this way?  Wouldn’t it be more important to say something rational and intelligible to God than to babble incoherently?  This objection presumes that tongues is unintelligible, irrational and incoherent.  But just as a hug communicates affection and love without words, and just as ‘scatting’ while unintelligible nevertheless communicates emotions such as joy or pleasure, tongues is expressive of how someone feels.  It’s for that reason that Augustine called glossolalia jubilatio, as he compared it to people at harvest or vintage singing at first with words and then breaking into a wordless song:

For jubilation is a sound which signifies that the heart is giving utterance to what it cannot say in words.  And for whom is such jubilation fitting if not for the ineffable God?  For he is ineffable whom one cannot express in words; and if you cannot express Him in words, and yet you cannot remain silent either, then what is left but to sing in jubilation, so that your heart may rejoice without words, and your unbounded joy may not be confined by the limits of syllables.

Some people also think tongues is all a bit noisy and only for extroverts who aren’t afraid to be very demonstrative in public.  I want to suggest that while tongues is a vocal form of prayer it can, like other forms of vocal prayer such as the rosary or the Jesus prayer of the Orthodox tradition, be a valuable aid to contemplation.  Praying in tongues, like the repetition of the Hail Mary’s or the mantra of the Jesus prayer engage the analytical, conceptual side of the brain that is often so busy with thoughts, thereby freeing up the more intuitive, receptive side of the brain for silent, attentive presence to God.  Let me be clear: praying in tongues is not contemplative or mystical prayer in and of itself, but it can be an effective precursor to deep contemplative enjoyment of God.

I also want to suggest that speaking in tongues does something, or indeed three things.  Firstly, because praying in tongues involves a surrender of some of the usual powers of speech it can serve as an effective release of control.  I’d like to suggest that it can be very helpful in the act of surrender that we usually call faith, where we make an act of trust in God with a concomitant letting go of ourselves.  In a world where the self reigns supreme, such a contraction of one’s ego is vital for the obedience that faith requires.  Or to put it more simply perhaps, praying in tongues invites us to let go and trust in God.

Secondly, as an expression of  our emotions and desires, tongues goes a significant way to reclaiming the place of affectivity in the life of faith.  We do not believe by merely thinking our way into faith (which is not to deny the place of the intellect in the act of faith), but by the ordering of our desires to God.  As the quote above from Augustine suggests, praying in tongues or with jubilatio involves the ordering of our  ultimate desire to the ineffable God.

Lastly, in his book Thinking in Tongues, James K.A. Smith suggests that tongues is a language of resistance that expresses a person or a people’s nonconformity with the structures of mass-consumer capitalism.  Tongues defies the logic of the market; it is not a commodity that can be bought or sold, and it resists a commercial value.  It is an act of ‘play’, which is by definition, ‘useless’.  By praying in tongues, then one is saying that the Lord they worship is not the god of material prosperity, but the One who promises that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit.

A Christmas Reflection

I think that the most important question about Christmas is this: why did God do it?  Why did the Son of God become a man?  In order to begin an answer to that question let me tell you a story.  It’s the story of the eagle who thought he was a chicken.

By a series of unfortunate events a baby eagle was left by its mother in the chicken yard. Separated from its mother, and knowing only the other chickens, the little eagle grew up thinking that it was a chicken too.  It would peck the ground like a chicken, squawk like a chicken, and it would eat the chicken feed that the farmer left for the chickens.  Most sadly of all, the little eagle’s world was confined to the chicken yard.  Because the little eagle didn’t know that he could fly.  Until one day a shadow formed over the chicken yard.  It was so large, that from the perspective of the chickens, it almost blocked out the sun.

A wise old chicken screamed out, ‘eagle!’, and all the chickens began a mad rush for the safety of the chicken coop.  Except for the eagle who thought he was a chicken.  He gazed, transfixed, by the sight of the majestic bird above him.  And then the eagle swooped.  He plummeted down to the earth, pulling up metres before the ground.  And the eagle hovered there, above the little eagle-chicken.

‘You’, he said.  ‘What are you doing?’

The little eagle who thought he was a chicken stammered, ‘Wwwwhat do you mean?’

‘What do you mean,what do you mean?’ the eagle replied’.  ‘What’s a bird like you doing in a place like this?’

‘I’m just here, where I belong, in the chicken yard,’ said the little eagle.’

‘Here?’ In the chicken yard?! ‘  The eagle was horrified. ‘You don’t belong here. You’re an eagle, not a chicken.  See you have wings like I do.  Extend them, come fly like me.’  And the little eagle tentatively extended his wings, until he realised that they were far longer and stronger than he had ever imagined.  And, then he took off, and he flew!

The point of this story is not to say that God was only pretending to be a chook – only pretending to be one of us, when he really in fact, was not one of us at all, but God, who swooped down for a moment, and then left us again to our own devices.

The point of the story is this:  God became one of us to show us that we have an alternative to being a chook.  The Son of God became flesh to tell us who we really are.  So the truth is, you are not a chook – you’re an eagle – a son or a daughter of God, with incredible value, worth and dignity.

God became man in Jesus to tell us that we have been acting like chooks when we are really eagles.  What does it mean to act like a chook? It’s to believe that you and I, and our world cannot fly, that we are trapped in the prisons of violence, despair and hatred.  It is to believe that there is no way out of the cycles of revenge and payback that mark our world.  To be a chicken is to believe that human nature is so flawed that conflict between people is inevitable, unavoidable, even necessary.

To be a chook is also to believe that the chookyard is all there is.  It’s to believe that who we are as human beings can be reduced to what we have, to what we consume.  It is to forsake our true identity as the beloved of God, made for love and called to the high destiny of life with God, in exchange for the belief that I am defined by what I possess.

God became one of us to show us that there is another way: that it is possible to live in peace with each other.  That violence can give way to reconciliation and friendship.  God became one of us to say there is an alternative to excluding and rejecting others, to the situations of injustice that have so damaged the human story.  God became one of us to say there is another way of being human, truly human: which is to say free, happy, and at peace with one another.

This is not to say that Jesus came just to tell us to be good.  He actually came to tell us that we are to be gods – sharers in the divine love, the recipients of the most extraordinary destiny: that we are to be united with God in love forever.  The way in which we are to live out the new life that he offers us – a life marked by peace, by non-violence, by joy, by love, is by believing that God has made us his sons and daughters.

Some might say that if that is so, then it doesn’t seem to have worked.  Two thousand years of failure, violence, murder, and genocide still mark our lives and the lives of many others.  And the logic of our culture defines us by what we consume, by what we own.  If this is why Jesus came then it doesn’t seem to have worked.  And so the conclusion that some, perhaps many draw is that the Christian ‘thing’ is a failure.

I’d respond to that objection with the words of G.K. Chesterton: Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and so  it has not been tried.

Christmas is God’s answer to his own question: ‘What do I have to do to get your attention? So that you would know what it is I have in store for you, so you know the destiny you have, which is  to live in love?  So that you would know that my way is an alternative to the cul-de-sacs and dead-ends of violence, hatred and despair? What do I have to do to get your attention?’

God’s answer is this: ‘I’ll become one of you’.

Ten Years Since Tampa

The WYD Cross at Baxter Detention Centre

It’s ten years today since the occupants of the Tampa were denied entry into Australia.

The following is an excerpt from my book of stories about the Australian  Journey of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon.

It tells the story of the WYD Cross’  journey to the Woomera Detention Centre.  I’m re-posting it today because I don’t think we should forget about the Tampa, or about Woomera and Baxter and places like them as the debate about refugees continues.  We are capable of so much more…

The [World Youth Day Cross and Icon] arrived in Woomera on the evening of October 10, 2007.  Our team of seven had swelled to fifty for the ‘Great Crossing’ pilgrimage. This special stage of the year-long Journey of the Cross and Icon involved traversing the country from Darwin to Port Augusta over six days with a contingent of young people from all over the country.

Those organising our pilgrimage walk at Woomera…chose the cemetery to speak about the former detention centre, to which we were to process with the Cross and Icon next. Bishop Hurley began and, when he could no longer continue, Fr Jim Monaghan, who had been stationed there when the detention centre first began housing asylum seekers, shared about his experience and the experience of the parishioners.

Fr Jim asked us to look around and ask ourselves why an Australian Government would put people, other human beings, here, in the desert. He spoke laconically of people with mental illness, of people with sewn-up mouths, of suicide attempts by guard and guarded alike, and of children standing at the barbed wire, looking out into the surrounding desert. He spoke without rancour or bitterness, but with a quiet passion, stating that what had happened there was wrong. ‘It dehumanised everyone who came into contact with it’, he said. ‘The refugees, the Australian guards, everyone.’ It was his clear appraisal that all the people in this situation were human beings made in the image and likeness of God, who, therefore, possessed a dignity that this situation simply stripped from them.

Fr Jim then went on to describe briefly what the parishioners of Woomera did to restore and nurture the dignity of those behind the fences. They visited people who had no-one to visit them. When they weren’t allowed to visit, they wrote letters and gave clothes. Bishop Hurley told the story of a woman who had written to a Muslim woman who had been incarcerated in Woomera. When they were finally able to meet, they instinctively knew who the other was. ‘They were both mothers, and so they could recognise each other’, he said. Both the bishop and Fr Jim made it clear that they did not try to distinguish between those who were subsequently found to be genuine refugees and those who weren’t. It was their conviction that even those who were illegal immigrants still possessed a dignity that demanded a more humane treatment of them. They did also point out however that, officially, eighty per cent of all those imprisoned in Woomera were judged to be genuine refugees.

As I listened, I cast my mind back to the time which these men were describing. I had been living in Canberra, where conversations about asylum seekers swirled around with questions of policy and how to protect borders. The conversations I recalled were such a contrast with the direct response of the people of Woomera and the Diocese of Port Pirie. Their response was not born of ideology, politics, or fear. It came from the Gospel. It came from listening to Jesus’ words: ‘I was naked and you gave me clothing … in prison and you visited me’ (Matt 25:36). In a modern state, conversations in Canberra about border control and illegal immigration may well be necessary. However, in a country such as Australia, it is also not too much to hope that such conversations will be tempered with justice and compassion.

Australia is capable of better. In 1977, one of the many boats from Vietnam that made it onto Australian shores was captained by twenty-three-year-old Hieu Van Le. He wrote that: My first sight of Australia was through the dawn light and an early morning mist across Darwin Harbour … We chugged clumsily into the harbour, and saw coming towards us a small boat with its outboard motor showing all the speed and agility that our boat lacked. There were a couple of blokes in it, just dressed in singlets and shorts, fishing rods sticking out in the air. This was nothing special for them, they were having a normal day – out to do a bit of fishing. As they came past they waved and called out ‘G’day mate … Welcome to Australia!’ and then just sped on past to get on with the fishing they had set out to do.

Hieu Van Le went on to describe what he learnt from that first experience of Australians: ‘I learnt … that deep down “G’day mate” meant something about a society that fundamentally believed in helping, in shared responsibility, that if we are not actually all in the same boat, we are all in the same harbour’. Hieu Van Le is now Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. The empty detention centres at Woomera, Baxter and Port Hedland all stand as mute witnesses to a period when newcomers to our country did not receive the G’day that Hieu and his companions did. At the same time, I think we can be proud of our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Port Pirie who demonstrated, with others around the country, that Australians still believe in a G’day that denotes a genuine welcome and real care, especially for those most deeply in need.

The Woomera detention centre closed some time before we arrived there and so we were there now to pray. Our prayer included an act of memory: to remember and acknowledge what had happened there in our very recent history. The WYD Cross stood before the detention centre as a sign of the depths of inhumanity that we are capable of, and it tells of an innocent man imprisoned, tortured and murdered. The Cross stood as a sign of solidarity with all those who had suffered and been demeaned in this chapter in our history – asylum seeker, prison guard, and nation.

Our prayer concluded with the planting of a tree outside the detention centre.
As a hole was made in the hard red soil, it seemed very much like an act of hope
to be planting in such a barren landscape. The parishioners assured us that they would water the tree. Fr Tom Rosica’s words echoed in my mind as he recalled the WYD Cross’s journey to Ground Zero in 2002: the visit of the Cross and Icon to Woomera and the planting of this tree were also acts of defiance, because they were acts of hope. The Cross is the Tree of Life because it proclaims that in the darkest moments of the human story, acts of love, peace and compassion can also grow…

For Insomniacs and Pilgrims – A WYD reflection

World Youth Day week is about to start in Madrid, and I’m confident that all those who are going WYD have already arrived in Spain.  Which makes it possible for me to share the reflection for pilgrims that I was asked to write for the WYD Journal that all Australian pilgrims received.  For those of you who aren’t attending WYD, here is a little reflection on what I think awaits our Aussie friends.  This week, why don’t we make a little pilgrimage of our own to a church we don’t normally visit, and pray for the pilgrims.

Dear pilgrim,

I’d like to think that right now you are thousands of metres up in the air, and that far below you the lights of Dili, Delhi or Dubai are winking up at you. Everyone else on the plane is asleep, and you have picked up your World Youth Day Journal and have begun to thumb through it (ok, so I know that you may actually be reading this in your bedroom before you leave, or maybe even after you have arrived home from Spain.  If that’s so, humour me a little and pretend that you are on your way to Europe, and the whole adventure still lies ahead of you).  I hope you have a lot of fun!  In fact, I’m sure you will have an amazing experience.  And you never know, it might just change your life.

No doubt that even before you left Australia, your group leader had already fed you the line: ‘you’re a pilgrim not a tourist’.  It’s one of the things group leaders say to prepare you for the worst that your journey will bring: long queues, big crowds, cold showers, school floors.  It’s more than just a line though.  You really are a pilgrim.  You have joined a countless queue of people throughout history who have made a journey to a sacred place.  So welcome to the club.  Here’s the thing though: you are currently travelling thousands of kilometres in order to visit breathtakingly beautiful and important places, but the most sacred journey a pilgrim undertakes is actually a journey of the heart.

In the past, people went on pilgrimage for lots of different reasons.  Some definitely took it all very seriously, and prayed the whole way, and no doubt got really excited when they arrived in Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, or whatever shrine or religious hotspot they were aiming for.  We know from the history books that lots of other people went on pilgrimage because it was really the only form of tourism that they had available.  They wanted to see the world, and pilgrimage was a respectable way of leaving everything at home behind in order to check out somewhere new.  Not much has changed.  There are some of you who know exactly why you are going to World Youth Day.  You are hanging out to go to Mass with a couple of million other young people and the pope.  That’s great.  But there are others who somehow also got the chance to come and it seemed like a great opportunity.  You might not be all that sure about all the religious stuff that’s going on.  My tip, whether you are a WYD groupie or a complete WYD newbie is this: pay attention to your heart.  As you experience all that this 21st century pilgrimage has to offer, listen to what the deepest part of you is telling you.

That’s because you aren’t on this plane by accident.  God got you here and whether you know it or not, God has some very definite purpose in mind for you over the days and weeks ahead.  So, as you have a fantastic time experiencing all that Spain (and whatever other countries you visit along the way) has to offer, keep listening to your heart, and keep paying attention.

In particular, listen to what your heart is telling you when you hear the stories of faith from the other young people in your group, and when you meet other pilgrims from other parts of the world.  Listen also to the witness of the stones, stained glass and art of the cathedrals and churches that you visit.  They are ‘words’ set in stone and sand and paint that can speak to you of previous generations’ faith and love.  When you take a moment on the bus to write in your journal, when you stop for a moment’s silence in a church, as you sit in a plaza (that’s Spanish for ‘square’) and have a coffee, when you are speechless at the sight of the natural wonder and beauty before you, and even when you find yourself in conflict or struggling with someone or something on the journey, stop again and listen to your heart.

And when you’re at the WYD vigil and everyone has lit their candles, and all you can see in every direction are flickers of flame held aloft by young hands from all over the world, and as you realise then and there that you belong to a universal family called the Catholic Church, listen to your heart then too.  You aren’t alone.  There are so many young people like you who are listening to their heart at that moment too.

I’m going to spoil the surprise and tell you what’s going on: In all those moments it’s someone knocking on the door of your heart that you can hear.  That’s because your destination at end of your pilgrimage is not a place, it’s a person.  The goal of this journey is a meeting, an encounter with Jesus Christ.  He is alive, risen from the dead, and that means he is the answer to the deepest questions, the deepest desires and longings of your heart.  He wants to be the source and foundation of your lives as you are planted and built up in him.  He wants you to be firm in your faith in him, because he is the sure hope, the solid ground on which you can base your lives.

Vaya con Dios, peregrino (that’s Spanish for ‘go with God, pilgrim’).  Vaya con Dios.

Why am I a Catholic? A Letter to K

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I got a letter, and I mean a letter, not an email, facebook message or sms, but a real letter with a stamp on it and everything from a twenty-year old.  I know, it floored me too.  And it included a self-addressed stamped envelope and a blank piece of paper so I could reply.  The letter went more or less like this:

Dear Fr Chris, I was wondering if you could do me a huge favour.  If possible could you please respond to the question, ‘why are you Catholic’? on the enclosed paper.  God bless, K

So I hopped onto Facebook to ask K if she would mind if I posted my answer on this blog.  No, I wasn’t oblivious to the irony of that either.  K said it was ok, so here it is:

Dear K,

Thanks for writing to me, it was great to hear from you. And thanks for letting me post my response to your question on this blog.

Why am I a Catholic?

I’m a Catholic because I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is Emmanuel: God with us.

I’m a Catholic because I believe in the God that Jesus Christ reveals to us: a God of unfathomable love, beauty and goodness.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that Jesus also reveals to us what it means to be truly human.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that the Spirit of Jesus has been given to me through baptism.  And as a consequence of the Spirit’s power at work in me, I know, as the deepest truth of my life, that I am so completely loved by God that the only Son of God was crucified for me and rose from the dead so that I might  participate in the very life of God.  This means that I experience myself as forgiven, loved even in my blackest moments.  And it means that I believe I have already begun to share in the Love that is God.

I believe all this because I have discovered an inexpressible joy that bubbles up when I least expect it, a joy that emerges when it should least be present, because it is the joy of knowing that even death has been defeated by the One who was raised from the grave.

I’m a Catholic because I believe that all of what I have described above is possible because of the mediation of the Church.  It is in and through the Church that I have met and continue to meet the risen Jesus.  I experience the saving love of Jesus in her Sacraments and in the Scriptures.  I experience the saving love of Jesus in the witness of those saints present and past, those publicly canonised and those hidden and almost unknown.  In the Church’s prayer and in her action on behalf of the weakest and most vulnerable and rejected members of the human family I meet Jesus the Lord.

I’m a Catholic because the journey is better with friends; in fact they’re indispensable.  Being Catholic means we’re in it together.  And there’s more laughs that way.

I’m a Catholic because Catholicism takes both my brain and my body seriously.  As a Catholic I neither have to leave my mind at the door of the Church nor pretend that I am an angel or merely a spirit.  The Catholic faith has real intellectual depth, and yet it is not a religion of the elite but is good news for those who can become like little children.

The Catholic faith provides the only response to the reality of human suffering that comes close to doing justice to the mystery of human misery that I see in the world. For only Christian faith says that God cared enough about our agony to join us in it. And my faith does justice to my deep sense that such suffering should not be by promising that it will end, for our destiny is a life free from suffering and pain, where every tear will be wiped away.  My Catholic faith commits me to the alleviation of suffering wherever I find it too.

I’m a Catholic because it offers a message of sanity and hope when many are peddling messages that are anti-human and destructive.  I’m a Catholic because our faith tells me that me, you and this world are all fundamentally good, but radically damaged, and that Jesus Christ is the Healer who can return you, me and this world to wholeness and harmony.

I’m a Catholic because I value the teaching office of the Church.  That’s not because I can’t think for myself, but because I trust in the wisdom that has been distilled over two thousand years and because I believe that the Lord promised to continue to guide and care for his Church.

I’m a Catholic because I know that I need to be challenged to truly love others as Jesus has loved me. The teaching of Jesus continually puts forward an ethic of radical loving that is at the same time deeply merciful and compassionate.  Being Catholic means that I am challenged not to be content with mediocrity or superficiality.  God means to make me whole, holy, truly human.  And he won’t be content until I am.

I know too that the Church’s witness to all of this is often disfigured and that her members all too often obscure rather than proclaim the truth of God’s saving love.  I know that I too don’t bear witness to Jesus as faithfully or as fully as I truly desire.  That means that I cannot say that the Church’s failures are simply ‘out there’ , because I fail to love as radically as  the Gospel calls me to too.   The Church has never been completely faithful to her mission to bear witness to Christ.  And so the Church always needs to be renewed through the power of the Spirit.  But I’m convinced that the light of Jesus still shines in and through his Body the Church.

Dear K, I’m a Catholic because the Catholic faith claims that Love is the meaning of the universe.  I find that immensely beautiful… and true.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Youth Ministry

Happy Feast of St Jean Marie Vianney.  St Jean Marie spent long hours in the confessional, and so I thought it might be fitting to honour his commitment to the Sacrament of Reconciliation today.  The audio file comes from a workshop that I presented at the Australian National Youth Ministry Convention in October 2010.  The topic was on the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation in youth ministry.

In the workshop I tried to place the Sacrament of Reconciliation within the context of the new evangelisation: the evangelisation of those who have been baptized, but are not committed to their faith or the Church.  I argue that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an indispensable dimension of our ministry with young people.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is about freedom.  Why don’t you go to the sacrament today?  St Jean Marie Vianney would get a kick out of it.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Youth Ministry

Thanks again to XT3 for the file.

Hans urs von Balthasar on Aiming Too Low

Studies of so-called generation Y regularly make the point that young people’s ‘worlds’ today are paradoxically small.  While they have virtual access to every corner of the planet through the web they don’t belong to many actual groups, clubs, associations or other organisations.  (I know there are always exceptions, but the studies show that this is generally true).  They are deeply committed to their families and friends… but that’s about it.

When I first read this the question that came to my mind was, ‘what happens if the support of family or friends fails?’   Today however, I found myself asking more about why young people might be making those choices.  Interestingly the springboard for these reflections came not from the most recent sociological study into Gen Y, but from a theologian writing in 1963.  Hans Urs von Balthasar’s insight may well have been accurate back then, but it now seems  quite prophetic, preceding the sociological data by nearly fifty years.  In Love Alone, the Way of Revelation von Balthasar says this (please excuse the non-inclusive language which I have left as it appears in the original):

…deep within his heart man knows that he is crippled, corrupt and numbed, that he cannot satisfy any code of love, however vaguely defined.  He does not dare to believe that there could be such a fulfilment of his being…. the path is soon shrouded in darkness; and so his guilt collapses into a more natural resignation.  There it can rest and be protected from itself… The finite limits of human existence seem to be a permanent justification for the finite limits of love – and since life as a whole cannot be explained in terms of love, love withdraws into little islands of mutual sympathy: of eros, of friendship, of patriotism, even a certain universal love based on the nature common to all men…(p56)

Von Balthasar’s take?  He is basically saying that deep down we know we are failures when it comes to truly loving.  And he suggests that the product of that knowledge is guilt, but because we don’t want to admit our failure to love (and because our culture is allergic to any admission of guilt, I might add) we settle into a state of resigned acceptance that this is all there is. Von Balthasar then suggests that ‘this is all there is’ is a safe place from which we engage in picking and choosing – whether in romantic relationships, friends or the security of family – it is love on our terms.  As a further example, when he speaks of a ‘certain universal love’ von Balthasar is referring to a widespread attitude which says something like, ‘I love all people’, but struggles to actually love this or that particular, concrete person, especially if they are offending or annoying me.  In other words, we’re picky: we love who and when it suits us, and we pretend to ourselves that we do not feel guilty when we give into selfishness and our failures to love become manifest.  Von Balthasar is not saying here that these loves are wrong in themselves, but that our loving is insufficient in its pedestrian complacency and its selectiveness.

The crucial sentence in the quote is this: ‘He does not dare to believe that there could be such a fulfilment of his being’.  In other words, because we do not dare to believe that absolute love is possible, we settle for so much less.  Here’s the ‘creed’ of young people today according to Australian researcher Michael Mason and his colleagues:

my goal is to be happy by being myself and connecting with others, having fun, enjoying leisure activities, making use of all the information available, opportunities for creativity;… when bad things happen I will find support from friends and family… with these and other resources available today, I will be able to move back towards happiness.
That sounds very similar to von Balthasar’s depiction of us as living lives of quiet resignation, our guilt from our failures to truly love lying hidden and unacknowledged.
I think that the Catholic response to a young person espousing such a creed should be: ‘Well, that is fine as far as it goes, but do you really think that’s all there is?  What if absolute love had a face and a name?  What if absolute love entered into our human condition and somehow took upon himself all of our failures to love and the consequent guilt we experience and in so doing forgave us for them?  It would mean living for absolute love, because absolute love had come to us.  Wouldn’t that make for a life that far surpassed the lowered expectations that we are currently settling for?’
Absolute love does have a name.  Because of Jesus Christ we are made for far more than half-heartedly loving in the shadows.  We are made for a love that we could not have predicted or expected, but a love that has come to us nonetheless – a divine love that can forgive our failures in the adventures of loving, but can also transform us so that we can learn to truly love too.
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